“Boxing is a sport where you can never take anything for granted. The smallest margin of error alter your career…and life.” – Samuel Ha, mightyfighter.com
Johnny Owen (25-2-1, 11 KO’s) Born: 1-7-1956, Died: 11-4-1980
Known as the “Matchstick Man”, Owen was the holder of three regional titles: the BBBofC British, Commonwealth (British Empire), and EBU European bantamweight championships and was the winner of several Welsh amateur titles. In his first world title challenge on September 19th, 1980, he faced Lupe Pintor, a Mexican slugger that had scored 34 knockouts in his 42 wins at the time of their fight. Many felt Owen was winning the bout at the halfway point, but things turned in the champions favor and Owen took the first knockdown of his career in the ninth frame and was dropped again in the 12th. Approaching the end of the 12th round, Owen was felled by a right hand, appearing to be out before he hit the canvas, the referee waved off the bout immediately without issuing a count. The British champ was removed from the ring on a stretcher and later underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain. Though he lived nearly two months after the operation, he never regained consciousness before passing away. Twenty years after this tragedy, a memorial statue was unveiled in Merthyr Tydfil; the unveiling was done by Lupe Pintor, at the request of Owens father. *Owens death was featured in the 1981 movie Faces of Death II.
Charlie Mohr (Collegiate) Born: 1938, Died: 4-17-1960
Charlie Mohr was a native of Merrick, Long Island who attended the University of Wisconsin on a boxing scholarship. In his junior year in 1959, he went undefeated and won the 165 pound NCAA championship. Fighting for the same title in 1960, Mohr was stopped in two rounds by Stu Bartell of San Jose State. Following the loss, he apologized to his team mates (this was also the deciding fight for the team championship), and laid down complaining of a headache. He began to convulse and was taken to the hospital where he was operated on by a neurosurgeon. Unfortunately there was nothing to be done, as the final punch he took in the fight had detached the blood vessel leading into his sagittal sinus. Eight days after the fight on April 17th 1960, Easter Sunday, he died. Ironically, this was to be Mohr’s final fight; he didn’t want to box any longer but had felt obligated to his coaches to finish the tournament. His story has been recounted numerous times over the years, as his death was the reason that the University of Wisconsin and the NCAA ended its boxing programs (the NCAA hasn’t held an officially sanctioned championship since the Mohr fight). Whether or not he should have been allowed to fight is another controversy; it’s said he was having trouble with his cognitive abilities and had suffered from depression and a nervous disorder, at one point he even underwent electroshock therapy.
Sonny Boy West (48-8-1, 16 KO’s) Born: 5-13-1929, Died: 12-21-1950
Fighting out of Baltimore, Maryland, West was a featherweight that fought often during his short four year pro career, the majority of his contests being scheduled 10 rounders. Though he never fought for a title of any sort, he did face high profile fighters like Jimmy Carter, Sammy Angott, and Ike Williams. On December 20th, 1950 he faced Percy Bassett, a 46-2 Virginian that would go on to win the Interim and “Duration” World featherweight title some years later when Sandy Saddler joined the Army. It’s said that he was being soundly beaten by Bassett and according to boxrec.com, had complained of double vision following the sixth round. In the seventh he was dropped by a right hand, hitting his head hard as he landed. He died the following day, cause of death ruled as “inter-cerebral hemorrhage resulting from a cerebral concussion.”
Angelo Jacopucci (33-3, 7 KO’s) Born: 12-22-1948, Died: 7-20-1978
Jacopucci was an Italian middleweight that held the Italy and EBU titles in that division. On July 19th 1978 in Bellaria, Italy, he squared off against future world champion Alan Minter in an attempt to regain the EBU European title he had lost two years prior. Despite having the advantages in height and reach, the Italian fighter was beaten soundly throughout the contest. Minter stunned him with a left hook partway through the 12th round and continued his assault, finally landing two left hands that dropped Jacopucci, his upper body draped over the bottom ropes; the scheduled 15 rounder was over, with Minter declared the winner by knockout. Jacopucci collapsed after returning to his dressing room, fell into a coma, and passed away the following day. As a result, the ringside doctor was later tried and convicted of manslaughter.
David Thio (17-1, 13 KO’s) Born: 12-30-1966, Died: 3-14-1989
Born in Côte d’Ivoire, this French residing welterweight had only been a pro for three years at the time of his death. He faced the more experienced Terrence Ali on March 4th 1989 in front of a home crowd in Lyon, Rhône, France. At that point, Ali had been a professional for 10 years and had challenged twice for world titles. He was a former USBA and ESPN lightweight title holder that had faced and beaten a number of top contenders. This was Thio’s first 10 round bout and Ali was a huge step up for him. After getting knocked out in the ninth round, Thio lapsed into a coma, dying 10 days later.